Chobi Mela VI: An Honest Encounter

“So, tell me… what makes you mix a Masters in Economics with highly acclaimed photography?”

Sohrab Hura, now in his late twenties grinned and replied,

“I did it for fun. I also wanted a PhD in Economics, but ended up not going for it.”

Born in October 1981, Sohrab Hura is acknowledged as one of the most exciting new generation photographers in the world. Indian by birth, he sees the world as a place of real human stories, and brings in his experiences as an economist to expose the human dimensions in economic movements. Through his lenses, Hura believes it’s important to remain honest and share stories where personal connections are indelible. His work was exhibited at Chobi Mela V, and he returned to Dhaka this year at Chobi Mela VI to conduct a workshop for students from Pathshala South Asian Media Academy.

Sohrab Hura; Photo by Sarker Protick

Sohrab Hura with a visiting student at Pathshala. Photograph Sarker Protick

We met at Pathshala on a lazy afternoon while his students were busily preparing their work for a ‘street exhibition’. Hura encouraged his students to move out of the box of exhibiting photographs only in galleries or defined spaces, and make it available for public viewing – even if it were only a fun experiment.

“When I came to conduct this workshop at Pathshala, I was hoping I will be able to encourage students to think about their photographic works at greater depths. This does not necessarily mean the quality of each photograph, rather the thought process that goes behind producing it. I want them to experience photography as storytelling, and be honest about what they’re offering. We discussed how a physical or psychological space can be used to interpret the stories, and how an average viewer might perceive it. That is why we decided to hang photos on walls and streets, and invite random pedestrians to take a look. It will help the photographers to understand how their work is communicating with others.”

Yet, I felt an irony. Hura is a self-taught photographer who has not been to any formal school to learn photography, yet finds himself ‘educating’ photography students. How does he see such contradicting pieces fitting into the picture?

“I think it’s important to get some level of formal education in photography to understand its parameters and ethics. I may not have been to a school like Pathshala [because we didn’t have such an institution in India] but I was well guided by very influential photographers, such as Raghu Rai. I am extremely privileged that way – I won a fellowship that allowed me to learn things from brilliant artists in a more informal setting.”

“I believe there are different ways of reaching the same destination. It’s the same with learning photography formally and informally,” added Hura. “I recommend people to gain some organized experience in the field before moving onto to exploring their photographic identities. However, I don’t think one needs to spend a lot of money going to an expensive school to learn those things. It can happen with a small investment, where not too many things are at stake and you have the opportunity to unlearn as you learn.”

Sohrab Hura with students from Pathshala; Photo by Sarker ProtickWith students from the workshop at Pathshala during Chobi Mela VI. Photograph Sarker Protick

As the evening sun was setting in, we could hear the bustling of the students outside. It seemed they were ready to show their work and had already gathered some audience. Hura’s experience with photography amongst the younger generation in Bangladesh was limited, but he recalled his time in Pathshala as intriguing. In what regards does Sohrab Hura – being young and dynamic – perceive the nextgen photographers from Bangladesh?

“The work is definitely good. However, many students are gradually experimenting with different formats. They’re cropping images into different sizes without realizing how it will appear on an actual print of that size. For me, the process is more important than the product. I pay attention to the formats. I think these photographers need to understand different formats in their actual dimensions and decide whether it suits their images or stories.”

A storyteller at heart, Hura shares how photography has changed for him over time. From being intrigued to recording personal incidents to finally settling into an international standard, and recently into a more emotionally connected space – he feels his journey has been privileged, interesting and surprising at the same time. In his work, he prioritizes context over other photographic aspects, and feels that one should remain clarified about their intentions before actually beginning to photograph a story. A strong base will certainly guide the story better.

The crowd outside was getting noisier and I could feel Hura’s excitement rising. The random pedestrian is an audience without baggage and often the most difficult viewer to communicate with. Both Hura and I were beginning to get anxious to witness how people were reacting. While we sipped the last bit of cha in our cups, Sohrab Hura summed up our conversation. On a final note, what advice would he give to aspiring photographers?

“Be honest. That’s it.”

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Chobi Mela VI: In Conversation with Pedro Meyer

One day in 1946. 11-years old Pedro Meyer receives a present from his father. It’s a camera. Intrigued, Meyer begins taking pictures. Over time, pictures become his becoming, and a legend is born.

Pedro Meyer is lauded as one of the most innovative and accomplished photographers across the globe. At the forefront of the digital revolution, he launched the first ever CD-ROM that combined sound and image to produce an emotional photo essay (I Photograph to Remember) depicting his parents’ lives, then suffering from terminal cancer. In that sense, many contemporary artists consider him the ‘digital guru’, a bridge between the analogue and digital era of photography. In 2004, Meyer set himself to host the first world wide simultaneous retrospective. The project, titled Heresies comprised over 60 simultaneous exhibitions in 17 countries around the world.

Pedro Meyer receives Chobi Mela Lifetime Achievement Award 2011, Photo by DrikNEWS

Pedro Meyer receives Chobi Mela Lifetime Achievement Award 2011. The awards were handed out during the opening ceremony on 21 January 2011 at National Theatre Auditorium, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Photograph DrikNEWS

This year, Pedro Meyer is a visiting artist at Chobi Mela VI who is also conducting a workshop on Digital Application in Contemporary Photography at Pathshala. He is currently based in Mexico and received the Chobi Mela Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

On meeting him at Goethe-Institut a couple of days back, I was immediately struck by his energy. His ability to immerse into a conversation and be intrigued consistently put us into ease. We discussed photography, art and storytelling. An obvious query was his decision to continue taking still pictures, when clearly a combination of sound and moving images could produce dramatic motion pictures or videos.

“It’s because I began with still photography and felt passionate about it,” explained Meyer, smiling. “I don’t think videos or motion pictures have the same depth or emotional connection with its creator. It’s somewhat very passive. But with still photography, I can feel passion, emotional involvement and personal connotations.”

That being said, does digital photography allow the same intensity of personal attachment between the photographs and the artist? A 2010 editorial piece from ZoneZero (the online photography platform that Meyer founded) eloquently summarizes his take on the boom of “photographers” everywhere. He feels gratified and elated with the fact more people are taking interest in pictures. In his opinion, any simple image – years from now – maybe an important document in history.

“It’s amazing how technology has allowed people to become part of an extraordinary ability to tell stories through images,” added Meyer during our conversation. “I remember on the boat trip I went to [in Bangladesh], I took a picture of a man in a different boat on the river. He also took out his mobile phone and took a picture of me. This is exciting! Technology has allowed people – irrespective of economic conditions – to somehow be engaged in the photographic process. This was unimaginable even a few years ago!”

Pedro Meyer playing with his camera before the evening presentations at Goethe-Institut Auditorium on 23 January, Photo by Zabir HasanPhotograph Zabir Hasan

“So, what makes a photograph the photograph?” I asked.

“Well, first of all, the photograph does not exist. The photograph that we like is based on our cultural differences, age differences and other contextual factors,” Meyer replied. “A fifteen year old boy in Mexico will like a very different photograph from a fifteen year old boy in Bangladesh because they belong to different cultures. For each of them, at that moment, that photograph is significant. As they grow older, the photograph may no longer be significant; another photograph may seem more meaningful. The photograph is anything that we like, and our likings change as we settle into different contexts.”

True, the way we perceive our surroundings change over time. Yet the restless dynamism of the 21st century makes me wonder whether we’re changing too fast. The younger generations experience rampant mood shifts. What would Pedro Meyer’s advice be to the next generation of photographers? How will they keep up with the rising demands of the world around them?

“That’s simple! You have to keep learning. You have to be genuinely curious and continue learning as you age. In the analogue era, there were a few techniques you’d need to master. In the digital era, not a week passes without something new happening. It is important to adapt to these new things, to changing surroundings in order to keep up.”

As we continued exchanging perspectives, Meyer enthusiastically took out his camera and began explaining how fast technology was progressing. The possibilities were exciting! Pedro Meyer’s magnanimous persona comes from his curiosity towards the evolving events around him. He believes in learning something new each day. Though the world has much to learn from his unwavering wisdom, Pedro Meyer lives in the moment and grows with it, thus making him the extraordinary visionary he is.

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Chobi Mela VI: The Becoming of Pathshala

This year’s Chobi Mela features more students and ex-students from Pathshala than in previous years, and this is only a reflection of the high quality of work that is being produced in the institution. The new breed of photographers is more dynamic and experimental, breaking traditional approaches and encapsulating intimacy and personal connection in their respective stories.

Syed Asif Mahmud, a second year student from Pathshala explains his workSyed Asif Mahmud shows a glimpse of his work, “My City of Unheard Prayers”. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

An exemplary work from this lot would be Syed Asif Mahmud’s “My City of Unheard Prayers”. Mahmud is a second year student from Pathshala exhibiting at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy during Chobi Mela VI. His work is a series of images that represent his perspective on a metro life and over time, has developed into a personal account of his becoming in the chaos of an urban jungle. Although he has spent most of his life outside Dhaka, his work focuses on Dhaka and the journey he feels entangled in with his friends, thoughts and emotions.

“Because of the theme being ‘Dreams’, I felt much privileged. My story reflects on my dreams, nightmares and the reincarnation of dreams. I focused on two aspects of the city life – isolation and the rat race. I’ve primarily come from the northern part of Bangladesh and have often felt unattached or restless with the lifestyle here, and I’ve seen that same sense of isolation being reflected in many of my contemporaries. Competitiveness, anxiety, fear, isolation, depression – all these feelings encapsulate my mental state and my evolving dreams, and that is what my story is all about.”

On the other hand, Mohammad Anisul Hoque – also a student from Pathshala – tells a very different story. His work is selected for a digital exhibition at Goethe-Institut Auditorium on 23 January, titled “High Life”. Hoque holds a degree in botany and enjoys taking family pictures. His work is a selection of photographs that reflects the comfortable urban lifestyle of an affluent family in Dhaka and he portrays the various shades of colour and glamour in their lifestyle.

Mohammad Anisul Hoque prepares for a street exhibition at the end of Sohrab Hura's workshopMohammad Anisul Hoque prepares for a street exhibition with a selection of photographs from his story, “High Life”. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

“When we think about our lives and what we all eventually dream about, this is the kind of lifestyle that we all want to settle for. We want the comfort of our families, the luxury of affluence, the security of our homes and the guarantee of a smooth way of living. My story portrays the lifestyle that many of us dream to have.”

Tushikur Rahman joined Pathshala during Chobi Mela V. In two years, he feels tremendously humbled and thrilled to have picked up so much from the institution. His work “Fatalistic Tendency” portrays an amalgamated state of mind engulfed with depression, suicidal tendencies and the death of dreams, and was one of the digital exhibits at Goethe-Institut Auditorium tonight.

“My friends tell me my work contradicts my personality. They usually know me as someone who’s very amicable and cheerful. These photographs – on the other hand – reflect on a more anxious and devastated personality.”

Tushikur Rahman carefully places a selection from his work "Fatalistic Tendency" for the street exhibition

Tushikur Rahman carefully places a selection from his work, “Fatalistic Tendency” on the walls of Pathshala for the street exhibition. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Chobi Mela VI represents a tremendous journey – not only in terms of the festival, its exhibitions and the visiting artists, but also the students of the institution and the art of photography. As Dick Doughty, the Managing Editor of Saudi Aramco World Magazine and a visiting artist who is conducting a workshop tutor at Pathshala during Chobi Mela VI phrases it,

I felt inspired on coming to Pathshala this year. The institution is shaping to be an important and remarkable center for photography, and instead of bringing ideas from elsewhere, it has begun generating its own unique ideas.

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The Public Poll: Counting the final hours before Chobi Mela VI hits the streets

Only a few hours remain to the grand opening of Chobi Mela VI – the unique international photography festival of our time. Everyone is bubbling with excitement. The festival not only attracts photography connoisseurs and students from around the globe, but also becomes the talk of the town. To make things fun, we went around Dhaka and virtual social networking platforms to find out what the aam janata (general public) has got to say about this year’s exhibition(s).

Mashroor Nitol, a 22-year old from Khulna University of Science and Technology is a young photo enthusiast and has been to some of the Chobi Melas in the past.  He feels drawn to the festival because of the selection of photographs and their diversity, and how different photographers relate and approach a common theme. He’s thrilled to be in Dhaka during this year’s exposition, and remarks excitedly:” When I think about Dreams as a festival theme, I imagine myself in a place where each image somehow relates back to my own dreams – things that I experience in my sleep as well as those I aspire in life. I love the way Chobi Mela tends to make us rethink everyday experiences, such as dreaming as more than what they are and adds fresh perspective into the way I see my relationship with the photographs.”

Meanwhile, 19-year old Musfiq talks about how he has colourful and black-and-white dreams. “I’ve never been to Chobi Mela in the past, but some of my friends are constantly discussing it. The posters seem to be everywhere! The theme sounds interesting and I want to know how dreams are expressed through photographs. Scientifically, I’ve read how dreams are colourless, but I see many colours when I dream – and to see it being portrayed through a visual medium will help me understand how other people also dream.”

Chobi Mela VI posters on the walls of Dhaka intrigue pedestrians. Photograph Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Cha-wala Shah Alam has seen strange-looking vans with pictures all over them two years back in the streets. He found it rather amusing and thought they were promoting tourism in Bangladesh. On meeting up with him, we explained how the vans represented the moving exhibitions of a much larger festival and that these photos – in fact – were some of the most iconic pieces in the world. Shah Alam raised an eyebrow and said:

Toi eto daami sobi raastaye raastaye ghurbo kya? Manushey toi kisu buzbona!” (translate: Why are such priceless photographs roaming around in the streets? People will not understand anything!)

We told him how the mobile exhibitions provided everyone with an access to the festival, but Shah Alam remains unconvinced.

On the other hand, 32-year old Ariful Zaman works at a private bank and enjoys doing nature photography. He is a regular Flickrite – one of the largest online platforms for photo sharing and showcasing – and tells us how Chobi Mela instills a sense of pride in his heart.

“To imagine some of the world’s best photographers coming to Bangladesh and experiencing our country in ways beyond the usual stories of poverty and natural calamities is an honour, and it feels good to know they take positive memories back home. The fact exhibitions that have been to New York or London or Paris are being shown in the same way to Bangladeshis is an overwhelming opportunity. For us enthusiasts, this is a remarkable experience. I’ve been coming to Chobi Mela since 2004 and every time, I feel excited to meet so many photographers from different corners of the world as well as see such versatile bodies of work.”

Speculations are high and everyone is anxious. What will Chobi Mela VI be like? How will photos share stories of dreams? Where to go and what to see? Chobi Mela has been growing each time and on its 6th season, it brings together thoughts, images and stories that keep civilizations alive and with life. At a time of chaos and divide, dreams are what holds us together – and Chobi Mela VI promises to deliver diversity and unsung stories of time.

Only a few hours to go!

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In Search of A Remarkable Liberation

A shorter version of the article was published on The Star Magazine (The Daily Star) on May 14 2010 (though written much earlier). The full article is given below, including the uncut interview taken by my colleague on this assignment.

As somewhat of a writer, I’ve often been curious to understand how freedom of speech is interpreted across various media. Whether it is practiced with liberty or constrained within socioeconomical and psychological limitations. It is not surprising that we, Bangladeshis – being a conscience born from a history of bloody struggle towards the independence of our mother tongue – take the issue of free practice of language with acute sensitivity.

In light of a recent article by Mustafa Jabbar, the proprietor of Bijoy (popular Bangla input system), the controversy surrounding the development of English to Bangla computing and infringement towards expression through free language have surged the local blogosphere. The offset was simple – a claim by Mr. Jabbar against Avro – a freeware Bangla input software – being a pirated or hacked version of his patented Bijoy. Following the provoked responses refuting his claim, Mr. Jabbar graciously clarified that he did not have a problem with Avro itself, rather with the keyboard layout UniBijoy (i.e. one of the four layouts used in Avro) which he believes is a pirated version of his copyrighted Bijoy layout. Note, Mr. Jabbar’s claim entailed the term “same”; and thus resulted in an infuriating rush of reactions, facebook notes, blog posts and newspaper articles.

Before we move on, one needs to understand why the basis of Mr. Jabbar’s accusation stands on shaky grounds. Firstly, Bijoy follows ASCII and requires specific fonts which are mapped into Bangla letters; whereas Avro uses Unicode and does not require a physical Bangla keyboard or specifically installed fonts. While the former is limited by the standards of a few characters set by ASCII, the latter has access to a support of innumerable characters and accommodates multiple languages without restrictions. Using the Avro phonetic transliteration system, users can generate Bangla words from Roman typefaces with amazing ease. Secondly, a keyboard layout can be defined ‘hacked’ or ‘pirated’ if it is the exact replica of its competitor. In case of Avro, it shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of Bijoy’s layout. In situations where a single key difference can result in the making of an entirely new keyboard layout, the accusation of the two aforementioned layouts being the same is grossly irrelevant and ridiculous. Thirdly, Bijoy is a closed source software and requires the purchase of license for it to be used, meanwhile Avro is freeware and available to anyone and everyone without spending a dime. The source code of the former cannot be hacked to program the latter. In a nutshell, Avro is certainly not a pirated version based on the groundwork laid by Bijoy and have yet to be proven otherwise. On the contrary, it accommodates the smooth use of our mother tongue with remarkable ease and literally free of cost, eventually making its predecessors obsolete.

However, the response to the said dispute does not end with blatant technical details, which have already been more eloquently elaborated in Sachalayatan (besides other blogging platforms); rather through an analogy comprising of impeding and compelling questions. Why would Mustafa Jabbar – an undoubtedly lauded name in the development of Bangla computing – risk his reputation by making an allegation that he – like any other technically sound individual – knew to be standing on shaky grounds? As mentioned in several articles published online, this was not the first time something of the sort has happened. In the past, Mr. Jabbar has tried to intimidate other developers of Bangla computing, proclaiming his Bijoy a monopolistic medium and has even threatened Avro developers with legal and police actions. Question arises, why does he feel so insecure? Why now? Those being answered, what now? More interestingly, how and why does the whole Bangla blogosphere unanimously controvert his allegations in the absence of a single leader to jumpstart the movement and come together in a matter of days?

Truth is, in spite of our minor differences, we all love the simplicity and vibrancy of our motherland, and share a deep rooted connection with our mother tongue. In every possible situation, particularly in a space where Bangla is not the default mode of expression, Bangalis feel the urge to establish their language and converse with it. We are looking for an outlet that allows us to express ourselves in Bangla across any virtual network in a matter of seconds and without paying a price. In that vein, Avro has truly been groundbreaking by allowing thousands of users to write in Bangla in the largest mass media possible without having to learn complex keyboard codes and spending five grands. It has managed to effectively realize a common dream and have successfully hyped the use of Bangla over the internet and other media.

However, the success of Avro was further boosted when the Election Commission used the software to develop what is yet the largest digital database project in Bangladesh, i.e. the Voter ID and National ID project. In his post, Mehdi Hasan from Avro writes –

The Election Commission initially chose a software that would allow them to input large numbers of data in Bangla; but realized that the software required purchase of individual licenses for individual laptops. Since in the Voter ID and National ID project, hundreds of laptops will be used, buying individual licenses will cumulate into a massive expenditure. To save that money, the EC decided to develop their own software and gave the project to a BUET faculty. The BUET faculty developed the system and kept Avro as the medium to be used to input data. It was easy to use and available for free, so naturally, it came as a preference. In return, I only asked the EC to provide me with a certificate stating Avro was used in the Voter ID and National ID project, and allowed them to use the software without charging any money.

That being clarified, question remains why would someone, twice the age of a new era of Bangla computing bluntly make fleeting remarks. Is it greed, jealousy or insecurity? If the EC – in fact – used Bijoy for the aforementioned project, the system would have earned its proprietor 50 million taka, undoubtedly a remarkable marketing victory. If Avro did not gain its fast paced acceptability, Bijoy (unless someone else came up with something else) would still have been the sole choice for any Bangla input system. The fact that recent developments in a field that was once grasped by a monopoly has minimized that monopoly’s influence is assumedly the only logical reason behind Mustafa Jabbar’s infuriation.

But, how long does infuriation last? There is a great difference between anger out of love and anger out of hate and jealousy. The former is inexplicably powerful, and as idealistic as it may sound, it has been proven correct on more than one occasion. When the country’s most active Google generation comes together at their own will to defend a case they share solidarity with only to establish free practice of language and dispersion of Bangla across every virtual media, its resistance inevitably falls short of allies. Any man-made system – be it mass media, government or free market – thrives on human resources, the ones who effect and affect it. Unity towards achieving liberation is equally empowering and intimidating, depending on which end of the bargain we are.

Bhasha unmukto hobei.

References:

Global Voices Online (globalvoicesonline.org)

Sachalayatan (sachalayatan.com)

saveavro.wordpress.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and does not reflect on the views of the publication, its affiliations or third parties.

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Mustafa Jabbar’s Take on the Issue

Mustafa Jabbar, proprietor of Bijoy shares his take on the debate between Bijoy and Avro. The telephone interview was taken by Hussain M Elius on 2 May, 2010.

We read at various media that you’ve mentioned Avro is a pirated version of Bijoy. Could you please elaborate on that?

I have write-ups published in newspapers and my website on the issue, so you might refer to those. Last Tuesday, an article was published on The Daily Sangabd, which has the detailed information. However, for your clarification, when the keyboard layout used in Bijoy is used in any other software, it is defined as piracy.

To refute your claim, an article was recently published in The Daily Janakantha on behalf of Avro team. In that article, it was mentioned that Avro shares an 8-keystroke difference with that of UniBijoy’s layout.

Law does not understand an 8-key stroke difference.  If you refer to the Copyright Law in 2005 and go through its related divisions – which I have mentioned in my article at The Daily Sangbad, you will easily understand.

Do you plan on taking legal actions?

I don’t want to go through legal actions. I have already complained at the Copyright Office and they have already sent a notice demanding an explanation to Avro. I’ve received a copy of it myself today. There are laws in the country. You can easily write against someone in blogs, websites or newspapers, but that does not mean law cannot be enforced. If you claim that it is not pirated, then elaborate through legal references. The answer does not lie with one’s verbal claims of 8-keystroke or 10-keystroke differences. I did not make the copyright or patent myself. Copyright or patent registrar has given it to me. If you have issues regarding copyright, you can approach the Government and complain that your copyright has been taken. I have even mentioned at Janakantha that you can impose a libel suit against me if needed.

Apart from this, are there any other measures you plan on taking?

Firstly, I’ll see what actions Copyright Registrar takes on the issue. If they can resolve it, I don’t need to take any further steps. According to the country’s legal infrastructure, I can go to court under Copyright, Patent or Trademark Law. I didn’t want to approach the court about these issues since 2003; however given the provocative and defaming language used against me, it seems as though my biggest mistake was simply making Bijoy. Yet, the person who has copied my keyboard and distributed openly in a website has not apparently committed any crime. My crime is mine. It’s my copyright, it’s my patent and in spite of it, I am the one at flaw here.

It seems claims have been that in blogs that Avro is open source…

It is not open source. It’s a freeware. Open source means software’s source is publicly open. Please refer to a copy of Prothom Alo from last Friday. Avro’s Windows version does not have its source open. Many freeware in the world were distributed free of cost initially, and charged for its proceeding versions. It’s almost like creating hype that you’re distributing something for free. I have no problem with free distribution of your own software, but why will you distribute someone else’s work? Bijoy is not his product. He has Avro Easy and other keyboards – I have no complaints against them. Why will he use my work? He, himself has admitted 99% has been copied, and now he is claiming 8-keystroke differences. Basically, the characters used to map Bangla letters using A to Z is the same, and in his said differences, we all know how many times does one use chondrobindu or bishorgo – and those are not related to fingering. In spite of all this, he claims he has not copied.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Jabbar.

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Omi Azad Writes About Bijoy

অন্য একটা বিষয়ে গুগুল করতে গিয়ে অমি আজাদের এই লেখাটি পেলাম। ২০০৪ সালে ভাচুয়ালি প্রকাশিত এই প্রতিবেদন আমাদের এই বুঝিয়ে দেয় যে আমাদের সংগ্রামের শুরু ঠিক কত দিন আগের থেকে। হয়তোবা এই লেখাটির কথা সবার জানা, তবুও আরেকবার পোস্ট করলাম…

Please download:

Omi Azad’s Protest Against Mustafa Jabbar

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Digital Darkness

Dhak kore ghum bhenge gelo. In his semi sleepless state, he fumbled under the pillows and found it. Its blue screen read 2343. In the fragment of an abrupt second, he found himself dragging a near fanatic self towards the restroom. His mind calculated a rough 15 minutes to her arrival. Squirting a forced spray of pale yellow, he zipped and hopped towards his desk. His trepid fingers slapped the computer into an unwanted boot. He muttered something impatiently under his breath and checked the time for the sixth time in the past five minutes. She was going to be here any moment! The desktop blinked into a blue pattern and he double clicked to Gmail. The simultaneous tab logged onto Facebook. He skimmed through the new mails (mostly notifications from his array of social networking accounts) and read through the status updates. Hitting a few ‘likes’, he kicked the machine into a sudden shutdown.

Another time check and he dashed towards the living room. Frenzied, he searched for old magazines in the dark and found something of the sort. Cursing himself for dozing off when she wasn’t here, he flung 120 pounds of his flesh and bones onto the crumpled pillows. His head knocked against the bedstead and landed on the side. At that very instant, she arrived. In the blink of a second, his fan creaked into a stop. Fanning himself with the magazine while rubbing the bump on his forehead, his lips curled into a victorious smile. He was ready to embrace her, embrace her insinuating darkness and humid temperament. Tonight, he was ready to embrace load shedding.

So be it. Surviving routine power losses (or 12 hours of darkness on a daily basis) has become part of our lives. We are more prepared than ever with our productivity and lifestyles reduced to half a day. WASA has little to worry about with forty degrees of humidity in the atmosphere endowing us with three sweaty showers a day. Yes, we are Bangalis – adaptable, adequate and advanced towards 22nd Century technology.

Of course, the joke had to be on. Ever since this whole deal about Digital Bangladesh begun with posters of people carrying transistors (?!), everyone knew we were in for a revolution this time. What better way than cutting down power supplies by 12 hours, eh? No one guessed that and it was the perfect surprise for 2010. Top that with excruciatingly painful traffic congestions and hiking prices of everyday commodities, and new rules suggesting we keep our air conditioners switched off during peak hours, shop only on certain days in certain areas and convert to solar energy. None of those measures would have gone underappreciated if our IPSes didn’t go onto becoming permanently interrupted power supplies (meaning, they don’t get charged enough to discharge adequately and have therefore, died).

But, if we were to take a truly empathetic insight into the scenario, we will realize that none of us are exactly certain about what the term ‘digital’ implies. It could mean one in a million things, such as driving more fuel consuming vehicles (?!), befriending top government officials on Facebook (!!!), changing our middle names online to suit the debated history of our nation in relevance to the ruling party, spending intoxicating amounts of cash to live the ‘advanced’ way only to realize we don’t know how it should be lived, carrying sunlight (Robi) phones and so on. Given none of us really know what we should be expecting; maybe the unprecedented load shedding is actually part of the bigger picture, a digital revolution unfathomable to our mere mortal intelligence.

Maybe, this is a calling for us to become less mechanized and start acting like human beings, not machines locked in a tiny cubicle. Now, who would have thought that, huh? Because we cannot be glued to ‘digital’ boxes otherwise known as computers, televisions and cellular phones, we are forced to interact within a more personal, physical proximity. We get out of our houses to breathe excessively carbonated air and meet our neighbours, people we didn’t even know existed until the day the lights went out… for good. We smack a punch at our friends and say, “LOL, poked!” We shake our worse halves vigorously and scream, “Reply koro na keno? I am nudging you!” We squeeze a stranger’s nose and announce, “iLike!” Truth is, we are being saved from a major phenomenon and when Google and Facebook take over the world to preach GooBookism, we will be the only lot to have conserved what Adam and Eve mistakenly gave us too much of.

Guess who has the last laugh then, huh?

No, seriously with a near 2000 megawatt of power deficit and an economy of approximately 160 million people to run, load shedding is more than just a problem. In 3rd grade science class (that’s way back in the ‘90s), we were often asked to imagine life without electricity and it seemed frightening. Suppose we all exaggerated – life without electricity is possible, not frightening and surprisingly (to date) sustainable. How our newly digitized economy is running is beyond the scope of our Business School professors in college. They say this is no ordinary darkness, this is advanced darkness. This is digital darkness.

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